Worcester mayor: Do whatever it takes to land PawSox (but this doesn’t mean, like, subsidies)

The sports move-threat game requires two elements, or really three: 1) a league with monopoly control over franchises, so that losing a team means it’d be tough to recruit a replacement; 2) a semi-viable city to threaten to move to; and 3) city officials there willing to start a bidding war for your team. The first is easily met by most North American sports leagues, the second for most minor leagues (since the bar for “semi-viable” is so much lower), and the last, in the case of the Pawtucker Red Sox, has a willing volunteer in Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, because man, just listen to this guy:

“The City Council does hereby support in principle the relocation of the Red Sox Triple A baseball team to Worcester including building a stadium to accommodate this team and further, request the City Manager do all that is reasonably in his power to facilitate this move,” Mr. Petty wrote in a proposed resolution the council will take up Aug. 15.

In an interview Monday night, Mr. Petty said the resolution is meant to show the Red Sox Triple A affiliate that the city and its people are enthusiastic about professional baseball returning to the city.

“We have a chance to get them here, and we just want to convince them Worcester is the place to be,” Mr. Petty said.

“All that is reasonably in his power”! Does that include “fire and fury“?

The mayor said the statement is not meant to imply financial backing for a stadium from the city. He said any discussion of funding or stadium location would be premature since the two sides have not even commenced negotiations.

Of course not! “Including building a stadium” would never imply spending public money to build a stadium, because that would just be silly! Besides, the mayor was directly asked about public money and responded with this firm statement:

“We’re not going to negotiate in the press,” Mr. Petty said when asked whether he supported the idea of public dollars going toward a deal.

It’s unclear whether the city council will go along with Mayor Petty’s proposal — one councilor, Konstantina B. Lukes, told the Worcester Telegram she was worried not only by the blank-check nature of the resolution but that “we may be the bride left at the altar after we’ve been courted,” which is a perfectly cromulent fear. But man, is Petty ever going for Cartoon Blowhard Mayor of the Year. I don’t know when Joe Quimby is up for reelection, but he could face a tough challenger here.

No, I don’t think the $38m PawSox stadium subsidy plan is a “win-win,” here’s why not

Joe Nocera, late of the New York Times op-ed page, has a new Bloomberg View opinion piece up titled “You Can Pay for a Ballpark Without Fleecing Taxpayers,” which namechecks this site and even provides a link, for which I should be grateful. Nocera and I failed to connect before it was published, though (he emailed me, I didn’t respond in time), so instead he is going to get berated here for misrepresenting my perspective, because that’s just how I like to bite the hand that feeds me clicks.

Anyway, here’s Nocera’s nut graf, where he brought me into the story:

In searching “Field of Schemes,” the go-to website for news about sports stadiums, I came across a rather different story, about the efforts of the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, to get a new ballpark. Although the dollars are far smaller (though not so small for Rhode Island), it does show that a team and a government can put together a deal that includes public financing but doesn’t hose the taxpayer. It’s kinda heartwarming, actually.

From there, it goes into a long, accurate description of former owner James Skeffington’s demand for $60 million in stadium subsidies, threatening to move the team out of Rhode Island if he didn’t get them. And then a long, not quite as accurate description of how after Skeffington’s death, team part-owner Larry Lucchino asked again for only $38 million in stadium subsidies, where the “city and state would receive a revenue stream that would not only cover the debt service but would probably make it a profitable venture for the government,” and “there were no threats” to move the team.

Okay, couple of things here. First off, the only revenue stream that the city and state will receive is “tax revenue generated in and around the stadium” — i.e., money that the city and state would normally collect anyway, but which would now be siphoned off to help pay for stadium construction costs via a tax increment financing district. There’s no way to reasonably project how much the TIF fund would collect — these things have failed spectacularly before — and more to the point, this is regular old tax money, not any actual revenues that the team would be giving up to help repay the public’s debt.

Secondly, about that “no threats” thing — not only did Lucchino just last week say he was going to look into moving the team out of Rhode Island, after promising two years ago not to do so until 2020, but Nocera actually linked to my post on that in his article. So, WTF, Joe?

Anyway, if Nocera wants to opine that the new PawSox deal is a better one for the city than the old one, it’s his column. (And he’s certainly right that it’s a better deal than Miami got for the Marlins stadium, though there are bank robberies that were better deals than that one, so that’s a pretty low bar.) But for the record, I would never call the new Pawtucket stadium plan a “win-win” — more of a “well, at least we got them to knock a few million dollars off their ridiculous subsidy demands, even if they’re still threatening to move Worcester.” Sadly, that’s a less grabby headline, but I’ll go with what I’ve got.

PawSox threaten to move just two years into five-year pledge not to threaten to move

Twenty months after promising not to move the Pawtucket Red Sox for at least five years in order to do “a repair job” on “wounds that were suffered by fans,” the team’s owners are back threatening to move the team:

“For more than a year, the Pawtucket Red Sox have worked cooperatively and exclusively with the City of Pawtucket and the State of Rhode Island to find a long-term solution to keep the PawSox in Pawtucket. The club promised such exclusivity through the state’s regular legislative session ending in June. This understanding was clear and made public on numerous occasions.

“While the dialogue with Pawtucket and Rhode Island officials will continue through a fall session, if called, the club will now also respond to other cities who seek to present proposals for potential ballpark sites. Given the uncertainty we face upon the expiration of our lease, and the timetables involved with these sorts of projects, we believe it is prudent and fair to follow this course of action.”

Now, I’m sure that the PawSox owners will claim that they’re sticking to the letter of their promise — even if the team were to move or try to, a new stadium elsewhere most likely wouldn’t be ready until after that five-year date in 2020 — but let’s be real: What’s going on here is that the Rhode Island state legislature wasn’t showing much urgency in approving its share of $48 million in requested subsidies, and team execs are hoping the threat of Worcester will light a fire under them. It’s a traditional part of the stadium-grubbers’ handbook, and “We don’t want to consider moving, but we have no choice” is a traditional “non-threat threat” way of presenting it.

So how realistic is the threat? More so than if this were a major-league team, if only because there’s no shortage of cities big enough to play host to a Triple-A franchise. So far there have been only “back channel” communications between the PawSox and Worcester, so presumably they haven’t started talking actual monetary figures — which, again, is in the team’s interest, because “Worcester is interested in us, better give us whatever we want!” is a much more effective threat than “Here’s what Worcester is offering us, can you match it?” Especially if Worcester doesn’t come up with a ton of cash, either. I’m not sure where “Get your customers to bid against themselves, it saves time” falls in the Rules of Acquisition, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

Bucks unveil tarpaulins covering new arena construction, and other Friday must-see news

And away we go with another weekly round of micro-news that shouldn’t be allowed to slip through the cracks:

RI officials won’t vote on $38m PawSox subsidy demand yet, they have real work to do, okay?

I neglected to mention last week that the Pawtucket Red Sox had revealed the projected costs for their proposed new stadium, and it would be roughly $45 million from the team, $23 million from the state of Rhode Island, and $15 million from the city of Pawtucket. (The Providence Journal uses higher numbers because it adds up all principal and interest payments over time, which is stupid for the same reason it’d be stupid to add up all your mortgage payments over 30 years to describe the cost of your new house.) But you can forget all that for now, anyway, because the PawSox stadium plan appears to be going nowhere fast in the state legislature:

“The Senate has not received any legislation from the Governor’s office or the Pawtucket Mayor’s office,” [State Senate President Dominick] Ruggerio said in a statement. “At this point, it is too late in the session for a thorough, public review of a proposal of this magnitude. Should legislation be forthcoming, I am not opposed to reconvening in the fall to consider it in a deliberative and public manner.”

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello had reacted coolly to the PawSox’s latest stadium proposal, indicating it wouldn’t get House consideration unless related legislation was introduced at the request of Governor Gina Raimondo.

“Speaker Mattiello is not putting a deal before the House Finance Committee that was negotiated by the governor, as the chairwoman of the Commerce Corporation, without her endorsement and her stamp of approval,” Mattiello spokesman Larry Berman, said in a statement Tuesday. “The speaker finds it highly unusual that the governor is unwilling to endorse a financial plan that she and her team negotiated. The stadium is a significant taxpayer investment, and with the governor sending mixed signals, it is likely too late in the session to initiate a proposal of this magnitude. The House Finance Committee has a great deal of other work to do.”

Oof — declining to take action on a requested stadium subsidy is one thing, but saying “We have a lot of other work to do, don’t bother me”? That’s cold.

To their credit, Rhode Island legislators appear to recognize that they have no good reason to throw a bunch of money at the PawSox owners, especially when the owners have promised not to threaten to move until 2020 to heal “wounds that were suffered by fans” the last time they threatened to move. Coming up next, probably: More threats to move. This doesn’t seem to be working out too well so far for Larry Lucchino and his fellow owners, but remember, they only have to win once.

RI officials talk a lot about new PawSox stadium plan, don’t say much of anything

In the wake of Rhode Island’s governor saying she might be okay with spending as much as $35 million on a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, several politicians in the state spent yesterday backing away from any such thing, including the governor herself:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, insists any legislative package involving state financing of a new stadium must arrive with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s stamp of approval.

“I have no bill. I have no legislation. No proposals. No nothing,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “I just got their press packet today …. I will look at it in my leisure, which I have none. It’s not my issue.”


Although [Gov. Gina] Raimondo on Tuesday and again on Wednesday afternoon rattled off multiple reasons why she concludes the proposal appears to “pay for itself,” “would be self-supportive,” is a “much better, much more reasonable proposal than last time,” her spokesman Mike Raia insisted Wednesday morning that “The Governor did not endorse the deal or throw her support behind it, as [The Providence Journal] reported.”

Raimondo did say that the latest team proposal (which, as Mattiello noted, isn’t really a formal proposal) is better than the team’s previous one, something that Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio echoed. But for now, this looks like lots of “we want to do something for the team, but we’re not going to make any commitments until we see which way the winds are blowing” posturing, which is about right for this stage of the game. Though “you’re not going to get a dime of public money until you can show clear and unassailable public benefits” works too, maybe somebody might want to try that?

RI governor says she’d consider spending $35m on new PawSox stadium, let the haggling begin

Ever since then-Pawtucket Red Sox owner James Skeffington demanded a $60 million subsidy for a new stadium and then up and died, his successor Larry Lucchino has been keeping the new-stadium campaign on simmer, saying he still wants some kind of public money, just he’s not sure how much or for a stadium where. Now, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has put a price tag on what the state will offer, or at least a maximum, maybe:

On Friday, Gov. Gina Raimondo told The Providence Journal the state should pay “certainly no more” than $35 million. That’s the first time she has publicly stated any dollar amount under consideration.

Why $35 million? That’s the amount that, the Providence Journal reports, “consultants” say it would cost to “cure structural deficiencies” at McCoy Stadium, the PawSox’ current home. That would appear to be this study, which includes everything from fixing cracked sidewalks to replacing all the seats and player lockers, to the point where it’s tough to tell what should be considered “renovation” and what “maintenance” (i.e., stuff you’d need to do in a new stadium sooner or later anyway), not to mention how much should be “stuff the team that actually plays there and uses it should pay for.”

Note, incidentally, that there’s a perfectly reasonably precedent by which owners of buildings pay for things and charge their tenants for it: It’s called “rent.” And really, that’s what Gov. Raimondo should be thinking about: Not how much the state or city would put in up front, but that if the public is going to help finance a new building, the PawSox should pay it off over time with increased rent.

Right now, though, it looks like nobody’s talking about how a stadium lease would work, only how up-front costs would work, which is dunderheaded but also standard operating procedure in these matters. Anyway, Lucchino wouldn’t comment of Raimondo’s sort-of offer beyond to say that it was “interesting,” so there’s still likely to be plenty of haggling ahead on this one.

PawSox CEO: How about public gives us lots of money, we give them worthless deed to stadium?

Pawtucket Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino announced yesterday that he wants a new stadium in Pawtucket, paid for with the help of an undisclosed amount of public money — pretty much the same thing he said a year and a half ago when he was last heard from on this matter. But this time it’s different, says Lucchino, because it would be a publicly owned stadium:

The concept of a publicly owned stadium is a “complete reversal” from the team’s failed 2015 efforts to win public support for a privately owned stadium on former highway land in Providence, Lucchino said.

Uhhh. Dude. You know that public ownership of a stadium is mostly just a dodge to get out of paying property taxes, right? If Lucchino were proposing to let the city of Pawtucket actually control the stadium’s revenues, and maybe charge his team rent for playing there, that might qualify as a complete reversal, but needless to say he didn’t propose any of that.

Anyway, I’ve already been invited to appear on one radio show and one webcast (neither of which are at times I can make, unfortunately) to talk about this latest “announcement,” so clearly Lucchino’s statement accomplished what he set out to do, which is to jump-start talk about a new stadium, even after his last stadium funding request was roundly rejected and he promised to shut up about stadiums for five years so he could focus on healing “wounds that were suffered by fans” when he threatened to move the team to Worcester. If I were going on the radio, here’s what I’d say: “Don’t feed the trolls, people.”

PawSox promise to spend five years healing fan “wounds” before threatening to move again

Pawtucket Red Sox chair Larry Lucchino has switched gears, saying he’s now happy to have the team stay in Pawtucket or play anywhere — so long as there’s a new stadium involved:

‘‘We think a new ballpark is important to fulfilling the vision we have for this franchise,’’ Lucchino said after a news conference presenting the team’s new leadership.

When asked if a new ballpark must be somewhere other than Pawtucket, he replied: ‘‘At this point, we’ve taken a position that we’re open to everything, every possibility.’’

Getting a new stadium with public money in Pawtucket doesn’t sound real likely in the short term, since they’d have to go through the same state government that rejected handing over cash for a new stadium in Providence. If anything, it sounds as if the team’s owners are shifting their stadium plans into long-term mode, with team president Charles Steinberg (like Lucchino, a former Boston Red Sox exec) saying the team is committed to staying in Pawtucket for five more years, and that there’s “a repair job to do here” on “wounds that were suffered by fans” during the Providence move threat. In other words: Please come see our games again even though we said we were leaving! We promise we’ll love you for at least another five years!

Somebody in Worcester sends PawSox a letter saying “Pick us! Pick us!”

A nonprofit community development group in Worcester is interested in wooing the Pawtucket Red Sox to their city, which is mostly notable for the awesome lede that the Worcester Telegram gave to its story about this:

Someone with a letterhead is interested in talking with the Pawtucket Red Sox about possibly moving here, and has advice on building a ballpark to accommodate any such relocation.

That about says it all, though I’d add that 1) the Worcester Canal District Alliance doesn’t have the $60 million in stadium subsidies that PawSox owners say they’re looking for, and 2) that had better be one hell of a letterhead, because the Canal District Alliance sure doesn’t have much of a website.